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Cuba, Syria and Venezuela voted against, Algeria, Belarus, Indonesia, Libya and South Africa abstained and 27 countries, including India, the P-5, Brazil and Egypt voted in favour of the motion sending Iran’s case file the U.N. Security Council.
After two days of hectic negotiations and debate, the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna voted on Saturday to inform the United Nations Security Council that Iran was not in compliance with its safeguards obligations under the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty.
The referral sets the stage for an escalation in the stand-off between the United States and its allies and Iran over the latter’s right to develop the civilian nuclear fuel cycle for purposes of producing electricity.
India was among the 27 members of the 35-strong IAEA Board of Governors voting in favour of reporting Iran to the UNSC. Three countries — Cuba, Syria and Venezuela — voted against the European-sponsored resolution, which had the backing of all five permanent members of the Security Council including Russia and China. The five countries to abstain were Algeria, Belarus, Indonesia, Libya and South Africa.
Iran has said that the resolution and the specific steps advocated are ultra vires the IAEA statute and are illegal, a stand shared by Cuba, Syria and Venezuela. South Africa — whose delegate, Abdul Minty, played a key role in trying to persuade the Europeans to drop the idea of reporting Iran to the UN — is also worried that the resolution encroaches upon the legitimate rights of non-nuclear weapons states under the NPT.
Among the major non-aligned countries which abstained on the Iran issue at the IAEA meeting in September 2005, Brazil, Egypt, Sri Lanka and Yemen decided this time to vote against Iran. Egypt held out till the end on the insertion of a preambular reference to the “objective of a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction” — code language for insisting that Israel too must give up its nuclear weapons. The U.S. finally agreed to the reference, though the form it took was that Iranian cooperation would “contribute” towards the realisation of a nuclear-weapons free zone in West Asia.
Although the resolution passed differs in this and several minor respects from the original draft presented by its European sponsors, its operative section remains unchanged: It requests the IAEA Director general to “report to the Security Council of the United Nations that [five] steps are required of Iran by the Board and to report to the Security Council all IAEA reports and resolutions, as adopted, relating to the issue”. This would include the crucial resolution passed on 24 September 2005 finding Iran non-compliant with its NPT safeguards obligations.
The five steps the resolution says are required of Iran are: re-establishing the full and sustained suspension of all uranium enrichment activity, including research; reconsidering the construction of a heavy water moderated research reactor; ratifying and implementing the Additional Protocol to its Safeguards Agreement; in the interim, continuing to act in accordance with that protocol; and implementing “transparency measures… which extend beyond the formal requirements of the Safeguards Agreement and Additional Protocol and would include such access to individuals, documentation, dual-use items, certain military-owned workshops, and research and development “as the Agency may request in support of its ongoing investigations”.
India’s decision to endorse these demands would appear to run counter to its long-held position — consistent with treaty law — that countries cannot be asked to abide by obligations they are not legally bound to do.
Indeed, Kamlesh Sharma, who was India’s ambassador to the United Nations in 1998, had presented a formal letter to the U.N. Security Council in the aftermath of the Pokhran tests protesting the draft of a resolution (subsequently passed as 1172) demanding India sign the NPT. “Can the Security Council urge any Member State of the United Nations to become a Party to any treaty “without delay and without conditions”?”, Mr Sharma had written at the time. “This is tantamount to coercion and a clear violation of the fundamental principle that a State must freely consent to be bound by a treaty, a right protected by the Law of Treaties”.
Iran is a signatory to the NPT but none of the five steps mentioned flow from that treaty’s obligations, a point noted in the resolution itself when it stresses the “non-legally binding” nature of Iranian confidence-building measures.
Indian officials say they worked together with the NAM group in Vienna to “soften” the resolution by emphasising the continuation of IAEA oversight despite the UNSC referral. The European draft had been vague on this point but NAM countries wrote into the resolution a line underlining that “the Agency’s work on verifying Iran’s declarations is ongoing”.
Other changes, admittedly minor, pushed by the NAM group were to acknowledge as a “positive step” Iran’s decision to place under IAEA seal a document on the casting of uranium into hemispherical forms; to stress that confidence-building measures like the suspension of uranium enrichment “are voluntary, and non-legally binding”; and to change an earlier categorical reference to the IAEA “lack[ing] confidence” in Iran’s intention to develop a fissile material production capability to the more nuanced and neutral observation that “there is a lack of confidence” in Iran. Finally, the resolution also reiterated IAEA DG Mohammed el-Baradei’s observation that Iran is “a special verification case”, so as to try and stress that a precedent for other non-nuclear weapon states under the NPT was not being created.
The Indian explanation
In response to questions on India’s vote, the official spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs described the resolution as “well-balanced”. “Several amendments suggested by Non-aligned countries were accepted by the EU co-sponsors”, he said here on Saturday, adding: “While there will be a report to the Security Council, the Iran nuclear issue remains within the purview of the IAEA”.
On the broader implications of the vote, the MEA spokesperson said that India’s position has been that “confrontation should be avoided and any outstanding issue ought to be resolved through dialogue”. The resolution “has won a period of six weeks, before the march IAEA Board Meeting, for diplomatic efforts to continue and to get negotiations between the EU-3 and Iran back on track”, he said. This breathing space also provided an opportunity for “serious consideration of the Russian proposal for a joint venture with Iran for uranium enrichment”, the spokesperson added.
The MEA spokesperson said India calls upon Iran “to respond positively to the requests from the IAEA Board to restore the CBMs it had voluntarily adopted in the Paris agreement, and continue to cooperate with the IAEA in resolving any outstanding issues related to its nuclear programme”. He stressed that India’s vote against Iran “should not be interpreted as in any way detracting from the traditionally close and friendly relations we enjoy with [that country]”. “It is our conviction that our active role, along with other friendly countries, enabled the tabling of a resolution that recognizes the right of Iran to peaceful uses of nuclear energy for its development, consistent with its international commitments and obligations, while keeping the door open for further dialogue aimed at resolving the outstanding issues within the purview of the IAEA”.